Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Dear Aaron:

Last Friday was the last day of school before a two week Christmas break, and I'll be honest, I wasn't necessarily looking that forward to it. I wasn't exactly sure how to keep you entertained for two solid weeks of mostly bad weather, and I was dreading the arguing that you and Harper have elevated to an art form.

On Monday, I woke up shockingly late. I looked at the clock and jumped out of bed, because it was far later than either you or Harper ever sleep on your own, and Daddy was at work. I went into the hallway upstairs to find you trying to cram yourself into a straw laundry basket, and you looked up at me and whispered "hi!" When I asked what you were doing, you replied that you were trying to make a "Jesus bed", imitating the nativity scene that's quilted on your Christmas tree skirt. I asked why you didn't come wake me up, and you told me that you thought I needed to sleep in (and you were right). I asked if Harper had been crying, and you told me yes, she had, but you had gone in and read stories to her, and then put her back to bed. I asked what stories you read, and you kept listing book after book, and then told me you had offered her either five books or ten books, and you were glad she had only chosen five, because by the last book you were getting really tired. Then you gave Harper her paci, told her to go nitey-nite, and proceeded to fashion a manger from a laundry basket. By the way, Harper slept until 11AM that day.

On Tuesday, I woke up and found you in Harper's room, reading to her again. I stood outside the door and listened so you couldn't see me. She started talking through your reading, and you stopped reading. After a minute, you calmly told her that if she wanted to continue being silly, then you wouldn't continue reading. Later that day you got a video email from Santa. He mentioned your name, told you he'd be bringing you a musical instrument you'd asked for, and even showed you his picture in his book! You sat on my lap, trembling with excitement and telling me to shush. When the video was over, you cried and asked me "did you see if I was on Santa's good list? Because it was going so fast, and I didn't see, and I want to make sure I'm not getting coal!" I assured you you were on the good list, because Santa is clearly very forgiving. What you didn't know is that your Daddy then spent hours going to every Target and WalMart in a 15 mile radius looking for a guitar without Hannah Montana on it, because we didn't know Santa was going to throw us under the bus and flat out tell you he was bringing an instrument. You spent the rest of the day making presents for everyone in the family. You spent hours drawing hundreds of Christmas trees on paper to wrap your presents, and making all of your labels yourself. I have a feeling I'm getting an apple, and I have a feeling you picked a red one because you know I like the red ones more than the green ones. You told me "thank goodness I had this day off school! I had so much to do to get ready for Christmas, and I never would have gotten it done without working on it today!"

This morning we got up at the same time, both ready for the man who was coming to appraise our house. You got really worried when we mentioned an appraisal, as if you've had a former career in real estate or something. You kept asking us and making us promise that we weren't selling the house, that we weren't moving, and that we would still be close to Nonnie and Kara and Grampa Jim. I have no idea how you made the leap from "appraiser" to "moving", but after we explained refinancing to you, I'm starting to wonder if you could just complete the paperwork yourself. When the appraiser came, there was a ridiculous orchestra of trying to keep the dogs quiet (because -story of your life- Harper was sleeping), but also out of his way. You were trying so hard to be a grown-up, letting the dogs in this door and out that door, and I got angry with you, because while you were doing what was logical, you didn't understand what the man was trying to do, and you were causing me more work. I wish I had just taken an extra minute to sit down with you and calmly explain to you what was going on, and why I needed you to do something different than what we normally ask of you. You're only five, and were trying your hardest to be helpful and conscientious. On any other day, all of your decisions would have been good ones. I'm sorry I forgot that you can't read my mind, and thank you for trying to be such a help.

This afternoon you wanted to deliver the presents you had made for the kids who live next to us. You very kindly gave them their gifts that you had nicely wrapped. The brother and sister accepted their gift graciously, and the other little boy was most ungracious indeed. But you handled the situation with surprising agility, and I was really proud of you. As the four of you were riding bikes afterward, Daddy came home and we were both watching the way you dealt with the bickering and infighting, and we were so proud of you we could have burst. In a way, I'm envious of how simply and easily you deal with so many situations that I tend to worry about.

Eventually the little factions developed, as they always do with this group of four, and the other three left you, which always stings my heart. When they came back, they had opened your present to the brother and sister, and rudely gave it back to you. It was one of Harper's Peek-a-Blocks- one of those toys that almost every child under the age of 3 has, and that probably never get played with. The other kids told you it was a baby toy, and that they didn't want it, and said some other unkind things that I hope I forget as soon as possible. You were trying so hard to be gracious, but I could see your face starting to break, and I knew you didn't want the humiliation of crying in front of them, so I shooed them on. I was so angry for you, and so outraged. I wanted to push them all off their bikes and take away their Santa presents and wrap you up into a little ball with my arms around you. I explain to you how we can't change other people, we can only change our own actions, and that at the end of the day, someone else can be awful, but that doesn't mean we should be awful, because then we'd be the same as them! I don't explain to you that I feel raw, pure hatred for people who hurt you in this way, and that I want to inflict the same pain on them. I have a feeling that if you ever have children you'll understand exactly what I mean. My mom tells me that nothing hurts her more than her children being hurt, and I understand now.

After we put you to bed tonight, with visions of sugarplums, etc., I saw your returned present laying on the washing machine. I looked at the bag you addressed and had to throw it away immediately, in the outside trash, because to look at it makes my heart hurt. I know you probably won't remember any of the altercation a few days from now, but it's seared on my brain- another minute of lost sleep worrying about you and if I handled the situation okay, and if this will affect you in any way. And if it does, will it make you a better or worse person? And did I make the situation better or worse? Before I threw away the bag, I took out the block, and sat outside looking at it for a while. At first glance, the kid was right- it is, without question, a baby toy. It's found in the baby section of the stores, whereas the "real" blocks are at least in the toddler section. But tonight I really looked at this block. There are moving parts and interesting patterns that change as you tilt the block from side to side. There are colors that shift as little plastic plates rotate on hinges. In my opinion, it's far too intricate for a baby, which probably explains Harper's complete disinterest in those blocks. And with her disinterest, as a grownup, I certainly didn't pay any attention to it- I just thought of it as another piece of wasted plastic, even thought I never actually *looked* at it. It took a thoughtful 5 year old to span that bridge, to ignore the label of "baby toy" and actually look at the object which is, even as a grownup, fairly interesting. All of us assumed that this was worthless junk- except you, who simply looked at it with different eyes. Aaron, I'm sorry that it took you being hurt to make me stop and see the subtleties of what you saw- the minute details that make this block more than just a baby toy.

I'm going to keep this block as a reminder that your perspective is a valuable one, and as a reminder that sometimes I just need to take half a minute and see things from your point of view. I'm sure I'll fail countless times at this before you're grown, but hopefully if you read this one day, you'll know that I'm trying very hard to emulate the grace you're already showing. So thank you very much for the gift, and I guess I should say thank you to the kids who discarded it, because otherwise I wouldn't have received it.



PS- Please don't make me crazy with the guitar Santa's bringing you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Joy to YOU, 2008

Each year I write a Christmas letter, because it's a lot easier than buying, signing, addressing, stamping, and mailing a bunch of cards. Here's this year's.

It’s Christmas letter time! And a happy holiday to everyone who celebrates other holidays this time of year, although I’ve been living in the suburbs for 10 years now, so I don’t know anyone who celebrates anything else. Diversity isn’t one of our strong suits out here on the cul de sac. We also don’t have charm, large trees, or short commutes, but we do have a Target right down the road, and at this point in my life I’m grateful for cheap diapers within a mile radius.

I was all set this year to send out real cards instead of some lazy-person’s holiday email, but what with the economy and all, I took the money I’d otherwise spend on stamps and cards and sent it to your very favorite charity in your name. I’ve also been notified “wow, you sure have a lot to write in your Christmas letters” so I’ll try to keep it brief, but I’m not making any promises. I figure if you get sick of reading it, just delete it and you don’t even have to worry about wasting paper.

Jason is still working at the same job “drawing pipes”, as Aaron puts it. He did not get a 5-figure bonus, stellar promotion, or new company car. He did get a year of enjoyable work at a company he likes that treats him really well, and you know what? You can’t ask for much more than that, especially these days. In his free time, he’s been running a lot, which worries me because he’s getting to the point where he could just run to a new city and not come back, and at times, it’s got to be tempting. He also continues to churn out any home improvement project I come up with, and has really gotten good at not rolling his eyes when I mention whatever new idea I’ve come up with.

I am not putting in much time “drawing buildings”, as Aaron puts it. Being a contractor in an industry tied directly to the economy doesn’t lend itself to a lot of job security. I’ve gone back to working much more part time, and as a bonus, got to spend the summer hanging out with the kids at the YMCA pool and weaning Aaron off of his terror of water (which is going remarkably well, and after only 293582309 hours of swimming lessons!) I’ve been really lucky to keep marginally steady work, but have (mostly) enjoyed getting to spend more time with the kids, although am chagrined to have to rein in my Target sprees. I’ve been running a lot, too, but whereas Jason runs for health and enjoyment, I run for one reason only, and that’s vanity.

Aaron, age 5, started kindergarten this year! This was highly emotional for mommy for the first 2 weeks. Then mommy just got embarrassed by being on a first name basis with the principal, and annoyed that school is closed a lot more often than daycare ever was. Aaron had what can only be described as a “difficult transition” to kindergarten, and it’s a real crap shoot as to how his day is going to end up. We recently had a week of really great reports about Aaron’s behavior at school, and Jason’s mom remarked “oh, I’m so happy that Aaron seems to have gotten over his hurdles”. Jason noted to his mom “yeah, don’t get too excited. It was only a week ago that he was showing off his penis to the other kids in class”, so that should give you some idea of what we’re dealing with.

If I were writing a personal ad for Aaron, I would include that he likes reading, writing, drawing, crafty stuff, and creating games from whatever he has left after we take his toys away because he’s behaving miserably. Aaron will frequently lose access to the playroom for behavior, but when you turn around 20 minutes later and see him setting up markers and a coffee can to play a game of bowling, you can’t help but be impressed with his creativity. (And lest you think I’m bragging, let me refer you again to the penis-showing incident. And the fact that I can identify his principal’s voice from the words “Mrs. G?”)

Harper has stayed very busy this year. She’s spent most of the year avoiding the potty, fibbing about whether or not there is poo in her diaper, cutting her own bangs in a style that is best described as “avant-garde”, and yelling at everyone. If you were to walk in our house right now, she’d yell at you “HI! What is your name? I’m Harper. I’m two and a half. You need to take your shoes off! Do you like Beauty and the Beast?”, and then she’d probably ask you to sing a few verses of “Gaston”. If you did, she’d interrupt you to demand something else or maybe scream at Aaron for breathing or looking at her or something. People usually remark how much she looks like Jason and acts like me, but I would like it to be known that nowhere in my memory have I walked up to someone and said “Big ups to all my haters!”, the way Harper did recently. I didn’t even know what it meant. Harper’s hobbies also include being sassy, enjoying time outs, and being politely disobedient (as in “Harper, please pick up your toys”, and her response is “No, thank you. You do it. I’m too busy playing”). She will watch TV until her eyes water, or Jason or I feel like we should actually parent, whichever comes first. Everything about her is exuberant and over the top, and sometimes I wonder if she’s actually a 16 year old trapped in the body of a two and a half year old.

Our dogs, Babe and Storm, have spent most of the year being stinky, barking at everyone, and shedding (regardless of season). The shedding is ridiculous. You start vacuuming (and by “you”, I mean “Jason”), and I am not exaggerating that by the time you finish with the downstairs, the place that you started has got clumps of dog hair laying around. I’ve been trying to train the kids to pick it up and throw it away when they see it, but Harper has developed an irrational terror of dog hair, and Aaron’s developed selective memory, so it’s not really working out. (Yet).

As always, we hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a great 2009. We’d wish you a peaceful 2009, but we don’t even know what that word means anymore. Thanks to all of you for being part of our lives. Our friends and family are more important to us than anything, and the older we get, the more we realize how blessed we are to have so much of what matters most.